Monday, September 28, 2009

Police Use Painful New Weapon on G20 Protesters

From Alternet

By Allison Kilkenny, True/Slant
Posted on September 28, 2009, Printed on September 28, 2009

Pittsburgh police demonstrated the latest in crowd control techniques on protesters when they used "sound cannons" to blast the ears of citizens near the G-20 meeting of world economic leaders. City officials said this was the first time such sound blasters, also known as "sound weapons," were used publicly.

Lavonnie Bickerstaff of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police uses benign language like "sound amplifiers," and "long-range acoustic device" to explain the new weapons in an attempt to sanitize what is essentially a painful weapon that leaves no visible marks on its victims. The mob utilized a similar tactic on snitches when they would beat everywhere except the face. If victims have no outward bruises to show, the world is less likely to believe their stories of assault and harassment.

Unlike aerosol hand-grenades, pepper spray, and rubber bullets (all traditional methods of protest suppression also used at the G-20 protests,) the damage from sound cannons is entirely internal, and can only be preserved on video, but even then, the deafening noise cannot be fully appreciated unless one hears it in person.

(Footage of the sound cannons in action can be seen/heard below. It’s clear from these videos that the extremely loud, high-pitched noise causes pain.)

The "long range acoustic device (LRAD)" is designed for long-range communication and acts as an "unmistakable warning," according to the American Technology Corporation (ATC,) which develops the instruments. "The LRAD basically is the ability to communicate clearly from 300 meters to 3 kilometers" (nearly 2 miles), said Robert Putnam of American Technology’s media and investor relations during an interview with MSNBC. "It’s a focused output. What distinguishes it from other communications tools out there is its ability to be heard clearly and intelligibly at a distance, unlike bullhorns."

Except, police aren’t trying to send a distress call to allies 2 miles away. They’re literally blasting this extreme decibel of noise directly into the ears of protesters (or any unwitting citizens) standing mere feet from the cannons. Depending on the mode of LRAD, it can blast a maximum sound of 145 to 151 decibels — equal to a gunshot — within a 3-foot (one meter) range, according to ATC. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that permanent hearing loss can result from sounds at about 110 to 120 decibels in short bursts or even just 75 decibels if exposure lasts for long periods.

But there is a volume knob, Putnam notes, so its output can be less than max, purportedly to give us comfort in the knowledge that deafening citizens is left to the discretion of power-hungry police. On the decibel scale, an increase of 10 (say, from 70 to 80) means that a sound is 10 times more intense. Normal traffic noise can reach 85 decibels, reports MSNBC, but these sound cannons cannot be compared to standing beside a busy New York City road.

The BBC reported in 2005 that the "shrill sound of an LRAD at its loudest sounds something like a domestic smoke alarm, ATC says, but at 150 decibels, it is the aural equivalent to standing 30m away from a roaring jet engine and can cause major hearing damage if misused."

This technology has been deployed in Iraq as an "anti-insurgent weapon," and the sonic weaponry is also being used on protesters in Honduras. Seattle Weekly reports that this weapon could easily be used as a torture tool if one doesn’t already think this is its only use.

Sonic weaponry is now being deployed domestically to put a chill on free speech. We’re told this is the "humane" way to deal with protesters, but it’s really just a convenient way to suppress citizens without the messy aftereffects of having to explain bullet holes to reporters. A bunch of protesters complaining about ruptured ear drums doesn’t make for dramatic news.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Protesters Dispersed After G-20 Meeting

September 27, 2009

PITTSBURGH — Hours after the Group of 20 meeting ended, the protests did not.

The police here had to disperse hundreds of students and young protesters near milling near the University of Pittsburgh on Friday night with pepper spray and smoke canisters in a scene reminiscent of the previous night’s clashes that took place on the eve of the economic summit.

The group, estimated at close to 500 people, gathered near Schenley Plaza around 10 p.m., with students saying they were drawn because they were angry over Thursday’s protests and how the riot police treated students. Some students say their curiosity was piqued by a university message warning them to stay off the streets.

The police used a loudspeaker to announce that the plaza assembly was unlawful and ordered the crowd to disperse about 11 p.m.. Soon afterwards, plumes of white smoke could be seen rising near Bigelow Boulevard and officers beating cadence on plastic shields with long batons marched down Forbes Avenue, driving back students, onlookers and journalists. A block north, as people scattered, officers fired projectiles at a young man riding a scooter down Fifth Avenue, knocking him to the ground and arresting him.

It was the second consecutive night of turbulence in the bustling streets surrounding the university, where crowds of bar-hoppers were largely displaced by fleets of police vans, armored vehicles and phalanxes of officers wearing helmets, padded vests and shiny plastic shin guards.

On Friday morning a flier had circulated instructing people to gather again at the university to protest the previous night’s events. The police then had confronted students in a dormitory courtyard and squirted pepper spray after black clad protesters dashed though nearby streets, smashing the windows of a University of Pittsburgh police sub station and several restaurants. Those protestors had ignited a dumpster, which they rolled into the intersection of Forbes Avenue and Oakland Avenue before fleeing into the university campus.

The nighttime disturbances around the university was in stark contrast to the peaceful and permitted march in downtown Pittsburgh on Friday

There, protesters with Iraq Veterans Against the War, wearing fatigues, marched alongside Tibetans chiming cymbals, chanting denunciations of China and waving signs, like one that read “G20 Let’s Talk Tibet.” Students for Justice in Palestine assembled on Forbes Avenue and called for an end to “the Israeli occupation.” Others held up signs like “We Say No To Corporate Greed,” and “We say yes to human needs.”

One group held aloft with bamboo poles a giant fabric replica of a dove. A marching band with a French horn, several snare drums and a trombone played amid a sea of black, American and Palestinian flags.

The People’s March, as it was called, was sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh peace organization. It came a day after the first raucous confrontations between the police and protesters resulted in 66 arrests. At least five people needed medical attention, and about 19 businesses sustained damage.

Observers put the crowd at Friday’s march at 3,000 to 4,000. Speakers urged demonstrators to fight for an array of social issues they felt had been largely ignored in global economic policy.

“We need to show the world that G-20 is not welcome in Pittsburgh,” Pete Shell, the director of the Merton center’s antiwar committee, said from the steps of the city-county building, just blocks from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where the G-20 meeting was under way.

It was as close as the protesters were able to get to the meeting of world leaders.

“The city has rolled out the red carpet for them,” Mr. Shell said. “But we need to show them that you are the ones we welcome.”

Nathan Smith, 31, a wine seller from Williamsport, Pa., said he drove three hours to attend the rally. “We need good jobs and good health care, and the G-20 isn’t helping that,” said Mr. Smith, who was carrying a sign that said “Capitalism Kills.” “Their policies are undermining jobs and health care.”

A member of the local chapter of Code Pink, a women’s antiwar group, led a protest against the continued presence of American troops in Afghanistan.

Rows of police officers looked on from the sidewalk, watching a group of more than 400 self-described anarchists clad in black.

Before long, singers from the Raging Grannies and workers from the United Steelworkers of America took the stage to talk about the need for jobs.

After more than an hour, the crowd began to disperse, some wondering aloud if the G-20 leaders would hear their messages.

Cory Perrotte, 20, a student from Duquesne University, was optimistic that it would be hard to ignore thousands in the street.

“They will listen to a certain degree,” he said. “They might not necessarily do anything.”

Ian Urbina and Sean D. Hamill contributed reporting from Pittsburgh.

Witness: Census worker’s body found naked, bound, gagged

From Raw Story
Muriel Kane
Friday, September 25th, 2009 -- 8:06 pm

Jerry Weaver was attending a family reunion when he and a group of relatives went to visit family graves at a cemetery in the forest and found the body of Bill Sparkman.

Weaver told the AP, “The only thing he had on was a pair of socks. And they had duct-taped his hands, his wrists. He had duct tape over his eyes, and they gagged him with a red rag or something. And they even had duct tape around his neck. And they had like his identification tag on his neck. They had it duct-taped to the side of his neck, on the right side, almost on his right shoulder.”

Weaver also said that a pickup was parked nearby with Sparkman’s clothes in the bed of the truck. “I thought he could have been killed somewhere else and brought there and hanged up for display, or they actually could have killed him right there,” Weaver stated. “It was a bad, bad scene.”

Police would not comment on Weaver’s remarks, but two people with knowledge of the investigation did confirm certain details, such as the fact that Sparkman’s census identification badge was taped in the area of his head and shoulder.

Study Finds High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury

From the Washington Post

Wednesday, January 28, 2009; 12:00 AM

MONDAY, Jan. 26 (HealthDay News) — Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies.

HFCS has replaced sugar as the sweetener in many beverages and foods such as breads, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soups and condiments. On average, Americans consume about 12 teaspoons per day of HFCS, but teens and other high consumers can take in 80 percent more HFCS than average.

“Mercury is toxic in all its forms. Given how much high-fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury never before considered. We are calling for immediate changes by industry and the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply,” the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Dr. David Wallinga, a co-author of both studies, said in a prepared statement.

In the first study, published in current issue of Environmental Health, researchers found detectable levels of mercury in nine of 20 samples of commercial HFCS.

And in the second study, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a non-profit watchdog group, found that nearly one in three of 55 brand-name foods contained mercury. The chemical was found most commonly in HFCS-containing dairy products, dressings and condiments.

But an organization representing the refiners is disputing the results published in Environmental Health.

“This study appears to be based on outdated information of dubious significance,” said Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, in a statement. “Our industry has used mercury-free versions of the two re-agents mentioned in the study, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, for several years. These mercury-free re-agents perform important functions, including adjusting pH balances.”

However, the IATP told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that four plants in Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio and West Virginia still use “mercury-cell” technology that can lead to contamination.

IATP’s Ben Lilliston also told HealthDay that the Environmental Health findings were based on information gathered by the FDA in 2005.

And the group’s own study, while not peer-reviewed, was based on products “bought off the shelf in the autumn of 2008,” Lilliston added.

The use of mercury-contaminated caustic soda in the production of HFCS is common. The contamination occurs when mercury cells are used to produce caustic soda.

“The bad news is that nobody knows whether or not their soda or snack food contains HFCS made from ingredients like caustic soda contaminated with mercury. The good news is that mercury-free HFCS ingredients exist. Food companies just need a good push to only use those ingredients,” Wallinga said in his prepared statement.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry has more about mercury and health.

SOURCE: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, news release, Jan. 26, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

With Global Capitalism Exposed as a Sham, All the Global Elite Have Left Is Pure Force

From Alternet

By Chris Hedges, Truthdig
Posted on September 22, 2009, Printed on September 22, 2009

The rage of the disposed is fracturing the country, dividing it into camps that are unmoored from the political mainstream. Movements are building on the ends of the political spectrum that have lost faith in the mechanisms of democratic change. You can't blame them. But unless we on the left move quickly this rage will be captured by a virulent and racist right wing, one that seeks a disturbing proto-fascism.

Every day counts. Every deferral of protest hurts. We should, if we have the time and the ability, make our way to Pittsburgh for the meeting of the G-20 this week rather than do what the power elite is hoping we will do-stay home. Complacency comes at a horrible price.

"The leaders of the G-20 are meeting to try and salvage their power and money after everything that has gone wrong," said Benedicto Martinez Orozco, co-president of the Mexican Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT), who is in Pittsburgh for the protests. "This is what this meeting is about."

The draconian security measures put in place to silence dissent in Pittsburgh are disproportionate to any actual security concern. They are a response not to a real threat, but to the fear gripping the established centers of power. The power elite grasps, even if we do not, the massive fraud and theft being undertaken to save a criminal class on Wall Street and international speculators of the kinds who were executed in other periods of human history. They know the awful cost this plundering of state treasuries will impose on workers, who will become a permanent underclass. And they also know that once this is clear to the rest of us, rebellion will no longer be a foreign concept.

The delegates to the G-20, the gathering of the world's wealthiest nations, will consequently be protected by a National Guard combat battalion, recently returned from Iraq. The battalion will shut down the area around the city center, man checkpoints and patrol the streets in combat gear. Pittsburgh has augmented the city's police force of 1,000 with an additional 3,000 officers. Helicopters have begun to buzz gatherings in city parks, buses driven to Pittsburgh to provide food to protesters have been impounded, activists have been detained, and permits to camp in the city parks have been denied. Web sites belonging to resistance groups have been hacked and trashed, and many groups suspect that they have been infiltrated and that their phones and e-mail accounts are being monitored.

Larry Holmes, an organizer from New York City, stood outside a tent encampment on land owned by the Monumental Baptist Church in the city's Hill District. He is one of the leaders of the Bail Out the People Movement. Holmes, a longtime labor activist, on Sunday led a march on the convention center by unemployed people calling for jobs. He will coordinate more protests during the week.

"It is de facto martial law," he said, "and the real effort to subvert the work of those protesting has yet to begin. But voting only gets you so far. There are often not many choices in an election. When you build democratic movements around the war or unemployment you get a more authentic expression of democracy. It is more organic. It makes a difference. History has taught us this."

Our global economy, like our political system, has been hijacked by a tiny oligarchy, composed mostly of wealthy white men who serve corporations. They have pledged or raised a staggering $18 trillion, looted largely from state treasuries, to prop up banks and other financial institutions that engaged in suicidal acts of speculation and ruined the world economy. They have formulated trade deals so corporations can speculate across borders with currency, food and natural resources even as, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 1.02 billion people on the planet struggle with hunger. Globalization has obliterated the ability of many poor countries to protect food staples such as corn, rice, beans and wheat with subsidies or taxes on imported staples. The abolishment of these protections has permitted the giant mechanized farms to wipe out tens of millions of small farmers-2 million in Mexico alone-bankrupting many and driving them off their land. Those who could once feed themselves can no longer find enough food, and the wealthiest governments use institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization like pit bulls to establish economic supremacy. There is little that most governments seem able to do to fight back.

But the game is up. The utopian dreams of globalization have been exposed as a sham. Force is all the elite have left. We are living through one of civilization's great seismic reversals. The ideology of globalization, like all utopias that are sold as inevitable and irreversible, has become a farce. The power elite, perplexed and confused, cling to the disastrous principles of globalization and its outdated language to mask the political and economic vacuum before us. The absurd idea that the marketplace alone should determine economic and political constructs caused the crisis. It led the G-20 to sacrifice other areas of human importance-from working conditions, to taxation, to child labor, to hunger, to health and pollution-on the altar of free trade. It left the world's poor worse off and the United States with the largest deficits in human history. Globalization has become an excuse to ignore the mess. It has left a mediocre elite desperately trying to save a system that cannot be saved and, more important, trying to save itself. "Speculation," then-President Jacques Chirac of France once warned, "is the AIDS of our economies." We have reached the terminal stage.

"Each of Globalization's strengths has somehow turned out to have an opposing meaning," John Ralston Saul wrote in "The Collapse of Globalism." "The lowering of national residency requirements for corporations has morphed into a tool for massive tax evasion. The idea of a global economic system mysteriously made local poverty seem unreal, even normal. The decline of the middle class-the very basis of democracy-seemed to be just one of those things that happen, unfortunate but inevitable. That the working class and the lower middle class, even parts of the middle class, could only survive with more than one job per person seemed to be expected punishment for not keeping up. The contrast between unprecedented bonuses for mere managers at the top and the four-job families below them seemed inevitable in a globalized world. For two decades an elite consensus insisted that unsustainable third-world debts could not be put aside in a sort of bad debt reserve without betraying Globalism's essential principles and moral obligations, which included an unwavering respect for the sanctity of international contracts. It took the same people about two weeks to abandon sanctity and propose bad debt banks for their own far larger debts in 2009."

The institutions that once provided alternative sources of power, including the press, government, agencies of religion, universities and labor unions, have proved morally bankrupt. They no longer provide a space for voices of moral autonomy. No one will save us now but ourselves.

"The best thing that happened to the Establishment is the election of a black president," Holmes said. "It will contain people for a given period of time, but time is running out. Suppose something else happens? Suppose another straw breaks? What happens when there is a credit card crisis or a collapse in commercial real estate? The financial system is very, very fragile. The legs are being kicked out from underneath it."

"Obama is in trouble," Holmes went on. "The economic crisis is a structural crisis. The recovery is only a recovery for Wall Street. It can't be sustained, and Obama will be blamed for it. He is doing everything Wall Street demands. But this will be a dead end. It is a prescription for disaster, not only for Obama but the Democratic Party. It is only groups like ours that provide hope. If labor unions will get off their ass and stop focusing on narrow legislation for their members, if they will go back to being social unions that embrace broad causes, we have a chance of effecting change. If this does not happen it will be a right-wing disaster."

© 2009

Click here to read the original article.

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was

for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He

is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. .

© 2009 Truthdig All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Mellons: Deindustrializing Pittsburgh

From Worker'sWorld

Published Sep 16, 2009 5:16 PM

Pittsburgh has shriveled. The former center of U.S. heavy industry has seen its population drop from 676,000 in 1950 to 310,000 in 2008. More people lived there in 1900.

So why are big shots from 20 countries—the G-20—meeting in Pittsburgh? The ruling class fears big demonstrations would erupt if the G-20 met in New York City or Washington, D.C.

Listen up billionaires. People will be marching in Pittsburgh for jobs and health care and against your wars in Iraq and Afghanistan no matter how many cops are mobilized.

The wealthy elite also chose Pittsburgh because they consider the hometown of the Mellon financial dynasty to be a shining example of a “post-industrial” city.

The Mellons and other billionaires destroyed over 110,000 manufacturing jobs in the area. Forty thousand factory jobs have been lost in the last 10 years alone.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won six Super Bowls but the last big local mill is U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works, which Andrew Carnegie started in 1875. What had been known as the steel capital of the world shed 56,000 steel jobs.

Pittsburgh was also the center of the Westinghouse electrical empire. Thousands of jobs were lost at its former plants in East Pittsburgh.

The Mellons’ fingerprints are all over this crime. After the 1907 financial crisis they pushed out George Westinghouse and took a big slice of the electrical giant. Then the Mellons let the Westinghouse Corp. bleed to death for years until its remnants were bought by Siemens.

The gleaming skyscrapers of Pittsburgh’s “Golden Triangle” are matched by low wages.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Pittsburgh area’s 30,770 cashiers earned an average $8.69 per hour in 2008. The 43,240 local retail salespersons fared a little better—their average hourly wages were $11.60.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center employs 50,000 workers, five times the local employment of U.S. Steel. Health care workers in Pittsburgh earn less compared to almost any other Northern metropolitan area.

Exposing two big lies

Millions of workers throughout the U.S. have had their jobs stolen by big business. If a fired worker was fortunate to find a new job, it usually paid less than their old position.

A big lie used to divide poor and working people is to blame African Americans for the economic decline of cities like Detroit and Cleveland.

Pittsburgh’s 110,000 lost manufacturing jobs were taken from a city with a white majority. After World War II, the Mellons and their elected stooges made sure that Pittsburgh’s Black community grew the slowest of any in the North.

Pittsburgh also exposes the poisonous lie that “immigrants steal jobs.”

A century ago, when Pittsburgh was the steel capital of the world, one out of every four residents was born in another country. Deindustrialized Pittsburgh has today one of the smallest immigrant populations of any metropolitan area.

Just as the Mellons used “urban renewal” programs to tear down part of The Hill in Pittsburgh—a historic Black community—they’ve also kept the Latino/a community small as compared to other big cities in the North.

Fight for every job

The Mellons controlled a whole slew of industrial corporations and utilities. They’ve cut loose some of their former crown jewels. These included the Koppers Corp., a coke and chemical combine, and Carborundum, a big manufacturer of industrial abrasives.

The huge investment needed to automate not only kills manufacturing jobs. As Karl Marx showed, it also tends to lower the average rate of profit.

Even if a capitalist is getting more profits from a super-automated factory, these profits are probably going to be a lower percentage of the required increased investment.

Big capitalists try to break out of this cycle by reaping superprofits from wars and “defense” contracts.

They also cut their losses by axing outfits like Mesta Machine Works. Mesta was one of the world’s largest makers of steel mill equipment.

Even though Mesta was a Mellon outfit, the Mellon Bank foreclosed on it in February 1983. The 1,200 workers fired at Mesta’s Homestead, Pa., plant put up a struggle and finally got their back pay.

The following year Jesse Jackson won the Democratic primary in Homestead, a city that was 75 percent white.

Key to Jackson’s triumph was the support of two white union leaders: Ron Weisen, president of United Steelworkers Local 1371 and Darrell Becker, president of Shipbuilders Local 61. Fourteen hundred of these union members had been on strike against the Dravo Shipbuilding Corp. for seven months.

Steve Kirschbaum—a leader of Boston’s school bus drivers, members of United Steelworkers Local 8751—helped organize Jackson’s rally at Dravo’s picket lines. Gavrielle Gemma, currently an organizer for the Bail Out the People Movement, was on the platform with Jesse Jackson, representing Labor for Jackson.

Jesse Jackson told these strikers: “Mellon and the bankers have to stop investing in [then apartheid] South Africa and subsidizing slave labor. They’ve got to start investing in this steel valley of antiquated steel plants and shutdown plants. They owe it to you. If they refuse, you have the option of running them yourselves.” (Workers World, April 19, 1984)

The Rev. Jackson’s advice is still good today. It’s our plants and offices—not the Mellons’ or any other billionaire family’s.

Last of a series.


  • Part 1: Mellons over Pittsburgh and the planet
  • Part 2: Coal mines and machine guns
  • Part 3: Keeping Pittsburgh poor
  • Part 4: Blood, oil and profits
  • Part 5: Making people miserable with aluminum
  • Part 6: Tax-free hate & paintings
  • Part 7: Deindustrializing Pittsburgh

  • Articles copyright 1995-2009 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

    Back to the streets! Protests set for October 2009

    On the 8th Anniversary of the War on Afghanistan

    Back to the streets!
    Protests set for October 2009

    ANSWER march against war on Afghanistan

    The ANSWER Coalition organized thousands of people to
    march on the very first day of the invasion of Afghanistan.
    Above is the ANSWER demonstration in San Francisco on
    October 7, 2001 — less than four weeks after the
    September 11 attacks.

    October 7, 2009 marks the start of the ninth year of the invasion of Afghanistan. On that day, there will be anti-war actions in cities and towns throughout the country. There will also be anti-war actions on Monday, October 5, and Saturday October 17.

    Many national and local anti-war organizations are initiating these actions. The ANSWER Coalition is either initiating or endorsing and supporting all of these actions. Click here to see a list of October actions taking place around the country.

    Please make an urgently needed donation to help support the anti-war movement!

    The war and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq are both colonial-type wars. Bush used the “War on Terror” as a pretext for the escalation of imperialist intervention. Bush is gone but the brutal occupations continue.

    Now, eight long years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. and its NATO allies are vastly expanding the war, doubling the numbers of troops. Casualties on both sides are soaring. Resistance to foreign occupation is growing rapidly inside Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan. The war is a disaster for the peoples of those countries, just as are the occupations of Iraq and Palestine. It is also growing disaster for the people here — not only the soldiers and their families, but the tens of millions of people suffering from the economic crisis.

    The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cost more than $14 billion per month, $160 billion every year, nearly $1,000,000,000,000 ($1 trillion!) since the start. At the same time, we are told by the politicians — who never say no to the military-industrial complex and have given away more than $10 trillion to the big banks — that there’s no money for single-payer health care. They have proven that the money is there. The problem is that the politicians are dedicated to protecting the interests of the military and health insurance corporations, not of the people.

    The ANSWER Coalition is calling for people across the country — in cities, towns and campuses — to take action on Wednesday, October 7, 2009, and at all the planned actions between October 5 and October 17 to demand an end to all the wars and occupations, and health care for all. We urge you to organize a rally, picket, teach-in or some other kind of activity that day.

    A list of all the anti-war actions in October will be posted within the next week on the ANSWER Coalition website at

    By clicking this link, you can let us know what you are planning and we’ll add it to the national calendar.

    Click here to see a list of anti-war actions taking place around the country in October.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    An industry built on restricting care

    From Socialist Worker

    Helen Redmond examines the health insurance industry--and uncovers a system that will go to outrageous lengths to limit coverage for those who need it most.

    THIS SUMMER, UnitedHealth Group, one of the country's largest insurance companies, with 70 million customers, took its show on the road.

    In July, its shiny black-and-blue 18-wheeler pulled up and parked a few blocks from Capitol Hill. On the side of the vehicle were photos of smiling doctors and patients, with the slogan "Connecting You to a World of Care." Inside was a state-of-the-art mobile medical clinic, which doctors use to diagnose and treat distant patients via high-definition video conferencing and satellite TV.

    Executives from UnitedHealth were there to "connect" with members of Congress--and "welcome" them to the world of telemedicine. Judah Sommer, head of the company's Washington office, told Business Week reporters that the promotional semi-trailer full of high-tech medical equipment "puts a halo on us; it humanizes us."

    On UnitedHealth's Web site, the company explained the concept: "Connected Care" would be the first national tele-health network, and it would connect patients to leading primary care physicians, specialists and hospitals, "regardless of location."

    But not regardless of insurance status.

    The millions of uninsured Americans won't be welcomed into the mobile medical clinic for treatment as it stops around the country.

    That, of course, is the way it works with a health care system that remains dominated by private companies. Despite the clever public relations maneuvers to convince us otherwise, the basic reality is that pursuit of profit is the core mission of the private health insurance industry, not patient care, wellness or satisfaction.

    That pursuit has been successful, too. From 2000 to 2007, annual earnings for America's top 15 health insurance companies increased from $3.5 billion to $15 billion. In 2007 alone, UnitedHealth Group raked in $4.7 billion, WellPoint got $3.3 billion, and Aetna took in $1.8 billion.

    The insurance giants have a serious image problem though, especially with health care reform taking the national stage and the spotlight directed at their business practices. The fact is that the vast majority of Americans don't like or trust them.

    Even President Barack Obama, while determined to keep the "stakeholders" on board with reform proposals, has said that insurance companies hold the American people "hostage" and must be "kept honest."

    One recent poll asked people what the biggest problem was with the U.S. health care system. Nearly 60 percent of people said it is too profit-driven. Asked for the specific shortcomings of the system, 43.1 percent ranked dealing with insurance companies first, and 49.8 percent replied not having insurance.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    THE HOSTILITY toward insurers wasn't always so pervasive and open. It has grown as corporations that purchase health care for workers have adapted to changes in the health care marketplace over decades--and as the number of uninsured in America climbed toward nearly 50 million.

    Insurance premiums for family coverage have surged four times faster than the increase in wages (before inflation is accounted for) since 2001. The average premium for family coverage under an employer plan in 2007 was just over $12,000--with workers picking up about 30 percent of the cost on average. Workers contribute an average of $273 a month toward health insurance under these plans.

    For those who aren't covered under an employer insurance plan, purchasing coverage on the individual market is literally impossible for millions--and an expensive, downwardly mobile lifestyle change for those who manage to scrape together the monthly premium.

    For example, Regence Blue Shield raised premiums by an average of 17 percent in July for individual health-plan members. For Gail Petersen and her family, that meant another $300 a month--now, she and her husband pay $1,700 a month to cover their family of five, according to a Seattle Times report.

    And that's for a policy that doesn't even meet all their needs. One of Petersen's sons takes a prescription drug that costs $1,300 a year--which by itself just barely fit under the Regeance cap on drug coverage. So Petersen and her husband had to buy a second policy to cover prescription drugs, at a cost of $350 a month.

    And that's just the problems with the price tag. There's even more anger at the insurance industry toolkit of tricks to limit how much they're responsible for in paying for people's health care problems.

    One tactic is called "medical underwriting." This is how insurers subdivide individuals and employee groups into different "risk pools," according to their health profile--and therefore, they're likelihood to use their insurance to pay for health care costs. By treating those more likely to need care differently from those who are less likely, the insurance companies can maximize the bottom lines.

    This division of people into categories of eligible and ineligible to receive coverage has seeped into the current national debate on health care--and served to pit sick against healthy, old against young, women against men, employed against unemployed, insured against uninsured, undocumented immigrants against citizens.

    How many times recently have we heard the following (and not just from right wingers but from liberals): the uninsured and undocumented are swamping emergency rooms and driving up costs because this is their source for primary care; the elderly are receiving too much costly and useless end-of-life care; the young and healthy just don't want to buy insurance, and when they do get sick or injured, "we" have to pay for it; the obese, smokers and diabetics make poor lifestyle choices, and taxpayers end up footing the bill.

    All these divide-and-conquer arguments are present in medical underwriting. The practice is governed by a perverse law of inverse coverage: the more you need health insurance, the less you will receive, and the more you will have to pay.

    Likewise, insurance companies are rightly despised for their record of screening applicants for "pre-existing" conditions. Beneath this industry scandal is one of the central contradictions of market-driven, for-profit health care: people who need treatment--for anything, from AIDS to a yeast infection--are avoided because insurers would have to pay out claims. The industry's focus is on what it calls the "medical loss ratio"--how much the company "loses" when it pays out medical benefits. As Mahar writes in Money-Driven Medicine:

    A managed care plan can keep its medical loss ratio low in two ways: by raising premiums or by keeping a tight rein on benefits. Most try to do both, and in 2003, the HMO industry as whole succeeded, reporting total earnings of $5.5 billion, up 83 percent from $3 billion in 2002.

    Melissa Gannon, vice president of Weiss Ratings, a firm that tracks insurance industry medical loss ratio, explained the consequences in cold business terms:

    Profitability continues to improve as insurers raise premiums and restructure policies to reduce costs. While this bodes well for the industry's overall health, rising premiums have forced many consumers to select more restrictive health plans or opt not to purchase insurance entirely.

    One sleazy industry practice that has gotten some needed exposure lately is called "rescission." Basically, this is when insurers go looking for excuses to get out of paying what they owe someone who makes an insurance claim.

    A bloated bureaucracy of actuaries, physicians and MBAs is employed by the companies to analyze health data and trends, pore over patient's medical records, and come up with reasons for denying claims. One favorite is to review original applications for coverage to look for omissions or evidence of something that could be considered a "pre-existing condition."

    Robin Beaton's story captures the human cost of rescission. As she related her story to television journalist Bill Moyers, in May, she saw a dermatologist for a skin condition. The doctor wrote in the chart a word that could be construed as "precancerous."

    The next month, Beaton was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. She was pre-certified for a double mastectomy by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, but a week before the surgery, her coverage was cancelled because of "inadvertent omissions in her original application." That one word in the chart was used to cancel her coverage. The hospital demanded a $30,000 deposit to perform the surgery.

    Such stories are hard to comprehend, but they are the natural outcome in a system where rejection of claims is a crucial part of accumulating profits. The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently investigated three insurance companies for canceling coverage of 20,000 people in a five-year period--at a savings to insurers of about $300 million in claims.

    A new study by the Institute for Health and Socio-Economic Policy found that more than one of every five requests for medical claims for insured patients was rejected by California's largest private insurers--even when the claim was for treatment recommended by a patient's doctor. In the first six months of the year, according to the study, PacifiCare denied 40 percent of California claims and Cigna one-third.

    As Deborah Berger, co-president of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, said:

    With all the dishonest claims made by politicians about alleged "death panels" in proposed national legislation, the reality for patients today is a daily, cold-hearted rejection of desperately needed medical care by the nation's biggest and wealthiest insurance companies, simply because they don't want to pay for it.

    Another insurance industry tool to increase profits is called "account purging"--it's aimed primarily at small businesses. Insurers track medical claims and red flag a company if workers are filing too many, by their standards. When a policy is up for annual renewal, the underwriters jack up rates so high that owners either have to shift the cost to employees or drop coverage completely.

    Large businesses are also subject to purging--which is what's behind the regular switching of hundreds of thousands of employees from one group of HMOs and PPOs to another.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    IN HIS speech to a joint session of Congress on health care earlier this month, President Obama correctly diagnosed the some of the problems in health care when he talked about pre-existing conditions, rescission, caps on coverage, denial of care and the enormous human suffering and financial strain millions have endured. As Obama explained:

    Insurance executives don't do this because they are bad people. They do it because it's profitable. As one former insurance executive testified before Congress, insurance companies are not only encouraged to find reasons to drop the seriously ill; they are rewarded for it. All of this is in the service of meeting what this former executive called "Wall Street's relentless profit expectations."

    Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable.

    The former executive Obama is referring to is Wendell Potter. He was director of corporate communications for Cigna and became a whistleblower--an insider for 16 years who began to speak out about the industry's tricks and lies.

    In a tell-all interview with Bill Moyers, Potter confessed how insurers care about profits not patients, use scare tactics to kill reform, and hire lobbyists to both buy and bully politicians to support legislation favorable to their bottom line. In a fascinating account, Potter exposed the political strategy developed by the insurance lobbying group America's Health Insurance Plans to discredit Michael Moore's documentary, Sicko.

    Obama should listen more closely to Potter, because Potter argues convincingly that the industry will never agree to any reforms or regulations that reverse the medical loss ratio--any that have their support are sure to be sufficiently toothless to not affect profits.

    In the case of Obama's proposals on health care reform, the industry is willing to accept some restrictions on their sleazy practices like rescission--as long as they get the individual mandate, under which people without coverage will be forced to buy a stripped-down, high-deductible plan from a private insurer, or be penalized.

    "They want all the uninsured to have to be enrolled in a private insurance plan," Potter explained. "They see those 50 million people as potentially 50 million new customers. They see this as a way to essentially lock them into the system, and ensure their profitability in the future."

    The health insurance industry will not be accountable to Barack Obama or to the patients they insure. They are accountable to Wall Street investors.

    That's why the real solution to the health care crisis will ultimately mean putting the insurance industry out of business--and creating a health care system that is based on human need, and not investor greed.

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    Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    ‘The American Way’: No truth, no justice

    Published Sep 7, 2009 9:34 PM

    Editor’s note: This essay was written in response to the U.S. government’s denial of parole for Native-American political prisoner Leonard Peltier on Aug. 21.

    There’s a comic strip character called Superman. His battle cry is “Truth, Justice and the American Way!” Unfortunately, however, “the American way” too often does not encompass the values of truth and justice.

    The ugly truth about the United States is that it is a country that was founded on hatred, violence and lies. White supremacist ideology, capitalist greed and imperialist domination resulted in the theft of Indigenous peoples’ land, their displacement, enslavement, destruction of their culture and the massacre of millions of them. And white supremacist propaganda continues to drive the engine of the U.S. today, accounting for the high degree of bigotry, ignorance, apathy and indifference when it comes to the rights of Native Americans and all people of color.

    There is no such thing as “liberty and justice for all” in the U.S. And there’s no such thing as color-blind justice. The judicial system and its prison-industrial complex imprison mainly people of color. And the number of political prisoners is abominable. Institutional racism dictates that being born a person of color is punishable by a life sentence of discrimination, and declares that having the audacity to speak truth to power is also a punishable crime. Fighting social injustice and oppression is labeled criminal activity.

    In keeping with “the American way,” if you’re a person of color you will continually have to fight for your liberation from the oppressor and for your civil and human rights. The oppressor does not tolerate resistance or dissent, peaceful or otherwise. And your right to self-defense and self-determination will repeatedly be undermined. The rhetoric about democracy is just that—it has never been actualized.

    The FBI—notoriously known as the government entity responsible for heinous criminal acts against people of color—continues to reign supreme, undisciplined and unbridled. And framing freedom fighters is nothing new. The civil rights and Black Power movements were destroyed by the racist attacks on its leaders and activists by the FBI and its Cointelpro operations.

    Anyone speaking out and challenging the system is viewed as a threat to “the American way.” So they’re demonized and silenced through imprisonment, assassination or by any means the government deems necessary. On Native-American reservations the FBI has always had carte blanche. And the FBI had its way again at Leonard Peltier’s parole hearing

    The U.S. government has committed unspeakable crimes against humanity on Native tribal nations, and the blood on the government’s hands still hasn’t dried. Living conditions on Indian reservations remain deplorable. And the devaluing of nonwhite life continues. Leonard Peltier will not be eligible for another parole hearing until the year 2024, at age 79. His two life sentences and denial of parole expose the truth of what the U.S. really stands for.

    Of course, the U.S. leader of the so-called free world and his federal attorney general have the power to free Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal and other innocent political prisoners languishing in jails. But in keeping with “the American way” of life they’ve chosen not to give us the change we can believe in.

    Articles copyright 1995-2009 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

    Saturday, September 5, 2009

    Peoples' Summit - Pittsburgh, PA Sepember 19-22

    Pittsburgh, PA – Friday, August 14, 2009

    The Peoples’ Summit, a program of informed dialogue about the economic, social and political problems facing the world, will take place from Saturday, September 19 to Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at several locations in the city of Pittsburgh. Saturday’s conference and Tuesday evening’s events will take place at the Twentieth Century Club in Oakland, and Monday evening’s program will take place at the New Hazlett Theatre on the North Side.

    Some of the speakers confirmed for the summit are:

    A more detailed schedule of events and finalized locations will be released on Thursday, August 20. For more information please contact Paul Le Blanc at 412-760-9716 or e-mail .

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Oscar Grant's imprisoned dad sues BART

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009
    Oscar Grant Jr., who is serving a prison sentence for murder, seeks unspecified damages in the suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by Oakland attorney Panos Lagos.

    Grant's son, Oscar Grant III, 22, of Hayward and several other young men were pulled off a Dublin-Pleasanton train by police investigating reports of a fight. The younger Grant was facedown on the station platform when he was shot by Officer Johannes Mehserle.

    Mehserle, 27, quit the BART force Jan. 7 and was ordered in June to stand trial for murder. His attorney said Mehserle had meant to fire his Taser when he fired a single shot with his pistol.
    Grant Jr. cried in his prison cell at California State Prison, Solano in Vacaville when he learned that his son had been killed, Lagos said today.

    Grant Jr. was convicted of murder a month after his son was born. A jury found him guilty of the Sept. 8, 1985, slaying of Anthony Epps, 24, who was shot to death while watching TV in his home on Darien Avenue in East Oakland. A woman who was with Epps was critically wounded.

    "Even though he is a convicted murderer, I would hope that people could still identify and appreciate that there's still a relationship between father and son," Lagos said.

    The lawsuit is the second filed against BART in the case. In March, attorney John Burris filed a federal civil rights suit on behalf of Grant III's mother, Wanda Johnson, as well as Sophina Mesa, who was Grant's girlfriend and is raising the couple's 4-year-old daughter.

    An attorney for BART in civil court has said Grant's death was "a tragic accident," citing Mehserle's explanation about trying to fire his Taser.E-mail Henry K. Lee at